Interpreting the Story of Britain’s First Saint

Interpreting the Story of Britain’s First Saint

As the Cathedral approaches one year to the opening of a new welcome centre and learning facilities as part of our Heritage Lottery funded project, work is underway to develop how we will communicate the remarkable story of Britain’s first saint to our visitors.

Plans are being finalised for a new timeline in the welcome centre, giving our visitors historical context before they step into the building. Films and interactive displays will tell the story of the living, working building. Audio visual projectors will be installed to illuminate in colour our magnificent set of medieval wall paintings; this technical innovation is the first of its kind in an English Cathedral and will recreate the original effect of the paintings. Visitors will see the paintings as pilgrims would have seen them centuries ago.

The story of Alban is a remarkable account of bravery and standing up for what you believe in.  This is the story we want people to know and be inspired by when they visit.  There will be many ways to learn the story of Britain’s first saint as you travel through the building – and what a story it is to tell.


Alban lived around the year 300 in the Roman city of Verulamium, in the valley below the present Cathedral.  One day he gave shelter to a stranger, who turned out to be a Christian priest. At this time Roman citizens were still forbidden to become Christians, so Alban was taking a risk by welcoming the priest into his home.

Alban was so moved by the priest’s faith and courage that he asked to be become a Christian too. Before long the authorities came to arrest the fugitive priest. Alban, inspired by his new-found faith, enabled the priest to escape. The Roman soldiers arrested Alban and brought him before the city magistrate.   Alban refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods, and declared: ‘I am Alban and I worship and adore the true and living God, who created all things’.

Alban is put to trial Pilgrimage 2017.jpg
St Alban’s trial is re-enacted at the Alban Pilgrimage in 2017

The magistrate ordered that Alban should receive the punishment that the escaped priest should have suffered.  Alban was brought out of the town and up a hill to the site of execution. He is honoured as the first British saint and martyr, and his burial place on this hillside quickly became a place of pilgrimage. When Christians were finally permitted to worship freely they built a church here.

That first church was probably a simple structure over Alban’s grave, making this the oldest continuous site of Christian worship in Britain.  In 429 a European bishop called Germanus recorded his visit to St Alban’s church – he is the first pilgrim for whom we have a name and a date.  In the early eighth century the historian Bede told the story of St Alban and described ‘a beautiful church, worthy of his martyrdom’. 

The Anglo-Saxon King Offa founded an abbey of monks here in 793. They followed rules for life set out by St Benedict, who had said they should welcome every stranger as though that person was Christ himself. People came on pilgrimage in large numbers to Alban’s shrine.

Shrine (c) Arun Kataria BANNER
The Shrine of St Alban is still visited by pilgrims today

When the Normans arrived in England a new Abbot called Paul of Caen was appointed in 1077 – he built much of what you see today including the huge, strong tower. The church was enlarged several times by later generations. After the monks were sent away by Henry VIII in 1539, the townspeople bought the enormous building to use as their parish church. In 1877 it was chosen to become the cathedral and the spiritual home of the bishop for the new diocese of St Albans.

Alban’s welcome to a persecuted stranger was a powerful example of courage, compassion and hospitality. He is an inspiration to people of many faiths and none and his story is commemorated annually by the city as part of the Alban Pilgrimage. Every day pilgrims still visit his shrine and, in time, the surviving pieces of the historic shrine of Amphibalus, the priest who Alban saved, will be cleaned and re-built so that we can tell his story too.

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New Faces for the Alban Britain’s First Saint Project

A wonderful part of the Alban, Britain’s First Saint project to date, has been welcoming new people to the team of staff that work behind the scenes of the Cathedral.

Two recent additions to the team have been for our two remaining Heritage Lottery funded posts; the Visitor Services Officer and the Community Engagement Officer. Volunteers continue to be at the heart of everything that goes on at the Cathedral and these two roles will ensure that this remains the case for years to come. They will also enhance our community outreach, ensuring that the Cathedral remains a welcoming place for everyone.

Here, they introduce themselves and give us an overview of what their roles will involve.

Laura Bloom and Lindsay Wong
Laura Bloom (Visitor Services Officer) and Lindsay Wong (Community Engagement Officer).

Lindsay Wong, Community Engagement Officer

I am very excited to be joining the Cathedral as the Community Engagement Officer working on the Alban, Britain’s First Saint project. Originally from Toronto, Canada, I first came to the UK almost 5 years ago to complete my Masters in Cultural Heritage Studies at UCL and quickly fell in love with the history and museums in England. Since then, I have enjoyed working at the Jewish Museum London as part of their Education Team, looking at how religion, history, and heritage intersect.

As the job title suggests, I am looking at how the Cathedral can make further links with the community and welcome groups that have never been before through outreach activities and new events at the Cathedral. I will also be working closely with our new Visitor Services Officer to ensure that we become a place that is accessible to all. I am thrilled to be joining the Cathedral during this new phase of its history and am looking forward to working with the rest of the team.

Laura Bloom, Visitor Services Officer

I am looking forward to beginning work as the Visitor Services Officer during the ABFS project. I moved to England in 2013 after completing my master’s degree in Medieval History, doing much of my research on St Albans. I then worked in the Tower of London sharing England’s rich history with visitors from all over the world before taking a job at the Cathedral 2 and a half years ago as Development Administrator and Diary Manager. I am delighted to be able to continue sharing the amazing history that surrounds us and most importantly, the story of Alban with our many visitors.

As VSO, I will work with volunteer groups and staff on the Cathedral floor to ensure visitors have the best possible experience while they are here. Lindsay and I will be recruiting more volunteers and looking into bringing different audiences into the Cathedral through new events, tours, and activities. I am looking forward to the completion of the new Welcome Centre and developing this into a warm, welcoming, and informative introduction to our incredible Cathedral.

We are always on the lookout for volunteers and this is a particularly exciting time to be involved in everything going on at the Cathedral. To find out more about our volunteering opportunities, visit our website: https://www.stalbanscathedral.org/community/volunteers/

World Thinking Day: What can we look forward to as part of Alban Britain’s First Saint?

World Thinking Day: What can we look forward to as part of Alban Britain’s First Saint?

Caroline Godden, our Adult Learning Officer, gives us a taster of some of the new activities coming up in Adult Learning as part of the project.

Well over a thousand years ago, one of my favourite historical figures, the Anglo-Saxon King Alfred the Great, wrote that ‘very often it has come into my mind what people of learning there were formerly throughout England’. Alfred drew inspiration from scholars from history to encourage learning throughout his kingdom with a passion which enthused his subjects and has inspired historians ever since.

It’s something that I often think about when I consider the history of learning at St Albans Cathedral – we can learn so much from those who went before us, and they can inspire and engage us even hundreds of years later. That’s one of the reasons that our project, Alban, Britain’s First Saint, offers so many exciting opportunities for learning today. We are drawing on our own rich history from the time of Saint Alban up to the present day to offer a whole series of engaging events, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

We’re fortunate to have a varied historical culture here – a thriving musical tradition, an abundant literary heritage, stunning artistic decoration, and a scholarly practice which since medieval times has encompassed not only theology but also other subjects, such as philosophy, poetry, history and science. Our Study Centre, the core of our Adult Learning programme, will be drawing on all of these aspects in an exciting new range of activities coming up, specifically designed as part of the Alban Britain’s First Saint project.

Over the summer we’re looking forward to welcoming the first of three Artists in Residence, who will be working with us to explore the historical graffiti hidden around the Cathedral, some of which dates back to the sixteenth century. You may not even have noticed these personal, and sometimes quite charming, traces of individuals who have, throughout history, made their mark on the Cathedral walls. This is our opportunity to show some of these fascinating strands of history in a new light, and engage the community in these tiny but remarkable traces of the past.

Swan Graffiti
Graffiti in the Nave of the Cathedral depicting a swan.

We’ll also be celebrating the incredible works scratched (perhaps more conventionally) onto vellum in the scriptorium at the medieval abbey. While little remains of the renowned medieval library in our Cathedral Archives, we nevertheless can lay claim to an enviable literary heritage. Working with the New Museum and Gallery in St Albans, we’re looking forward to reuniting some of the most significant manuscripts which were written in St Albans in a joint exhibition in the summer of 2020. Taking inspiration from local characters such as Matthew Paris, Roger of Wendover, and Thomas Walsingham, this cross-site exhibition will explore the people who dedicated their lives to learning, the beautiful works of art which they produced, and the fascinating and painstaking process of the creation of a manuscript. To complement this exhibition, we’re also going to be running workshops in calligraphy and palaeography (the study of writing) so that you can have some hands-on experience of the work of the monks who created these manuscripts.

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A page from the Alban Psalter, created by the monks of St Albans Abbey in the 12th Century.

There will also be a fabulous opportunity for the whole community to engage in a contemporary expression of the fine musical tradition at the Cathedral. Working with local musician Pete Letanka, we’ll be holding a ‘Big Sing Festival’ in Spring 2019 which celebrates the communities and cultures around the world which have connections to St Albans and the Cathedral, and incorporates music and song from these different places into a musical mélange rehearsed in a day and performed in the Cathedral itself.

There’s all this and more to look forward to as part of the ABFS project, and we are grateful to all those who join us as we continue to be inspired by the amazing heritage of this building and the history of the people who lived and worked here in St Albans before us.

You can keep up to date with progress of the project, by visiting our website or following this blog.

Caroline Godden, Adult Learning Officer

Turning Back Time: The Medieval Wall Paintings of St Albans Cathedral

Turning Back Time: The Medieval Wall Paintings of St Albans Cathedral

The 12th century medieval wall paintings of St Albans Cathedral are a national treasure of the highest importance. No other Cathedral has preserved so many wall paintings ranging from the Romanesque to the Tudor period and, as such, they are as important today as when they were first painted, allowing us to look into the past and gain an understanding of what it was like to be a pilgrim. What would I see? What would I learn? The wall paintings told stories then as they do now. These were the teaching aids of the mediaeval church.

Fast forward around 800 years and, as part of our Alban, Britain’s First Saint project, digital technology will help to recreate the original effects of the painting for visitor and pilgrim, bringing to life their original colours. This digital illumination of the Wall Paintings promises to be a very significant technical innovation, the first of its kind on this level at an English Cathedral.

We want to introduce you to the Wall Paintings, what they mean, how they were achieved and how we hope to use them today. Every Friday through Lent, we’ll be featuring one of the Wall Paintings on our social media, exploring the story and meanings behind each. Below is your introduction to these marvellous pieces of art.

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The first paintings to greet a visitor entering through the West End doors of the Cathedral are a fine set of scenes depicting the crucifixion and the life of the Virgin going from West to East on the north side pillars, towards the Shrine of St Alban. Although only the underpainting is left, they have a powerful image and you can still see a hint of the original colour. Freshly painted, these had the finest of palettes: gold leaf, lapis lazuli and, most expensive of all, red lake.

North Nave Dennis Gilbert
The crucifixion scenes on the north side pillars in the Nave.                Photo: Dennis Gilbert

Painted in a different style due to the climate, the images are not frescos as you might see in Italian churches, but  beautiful seccos, painted onto a dry surface and much easier to handle – you get to correct your mistakes!

On the same pillars but facing south are four monumental paintings, each 3 metres tall. Newly created they would have had a “3D” effect to the faces, which has faded as time has passed. Layers of whitewash had also covered them since the 1500’s and so the faces are likely to have been damaged when this was removed.

Nave North Facing Dennis Gilbert
Two of the four monumental paintings in the Cathedral Nave.                               Photo: Dennis Gilbert

Many of the original features of the Abbey were affected by the events of the reformation and the Wall Paintings are no exception. You can see the contrast when looking at the brighter and better preserved paintings in other parts of the Cathedral such as the St. William of York painting in the Shrine Chapel or the Doubting Thomas in the North Transept. However these four surviving nave figures will ultimately come into their own as part of the Alban, Britain’s First Saint project.

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The Doubting Thomas Wall Painting in the North Transept.

If you haven’t already visited St Albans, come and see the Wall Paintings and a whole lot more besides.

 

With thanks to Julia Low, Chair of the St Albans Cathedral Guides.

Look out for our Wall Painting posts on social media every Friday through Lent. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

The Lost Abbot: Who was John of Wheathampstead?

The Lost Abbot: Who was John of Wheathampstead?

Last month a unique and remarkable discovery came to light during an archaeological dig taking place as part of the Alban, Britain’s First Saint project at St Albans Cathedral. A 15th century skeleton was uncovered and, in an extremely rare development, was found to be accompanied by three papal bulls issued by Pope Martin V (1417-31), indicating that this was no ordinary burial.

Knowing that this was likely to be a person of some significance, the Cathedral sought the help of James Clark, Professor of History at Exeter University and an expert on the medieval history of the Abbey. Within hours he identified the skeleton as that of Abbot John of Wheathampstead due to the presence of the bulls which signify three special privileges made by the Pope to St Albans Abbey.

Cathedral Guide Laura Bloom spoke to Professor Clark, who has studied the life of Abbot Wheathampstead for 25 years, to find out more about this fascinating figure from the Cathedral’s history.

LB What were your thoughts when you first realised this was Abbot Wheathampstead?

JC The immediate feeling is quite strange because, as a historian, when you have been writing about someone for a while, they stop being real. There’s a lot I know about this man so to finally see him face to face was both amazing and unnerving. Ever since I started my PhD in 1992 I have been living with John of Wheathampstead and I’ve spent a good deal of my professional career handling the books he owned and reading his manuscripts. You’re getting to know someone through all the other attributes except through the self.

LB What does the discovery mean for your research?

JC It’s wonderful. I have three or four projects about St Albans moving forward in parallel so it’s good timing. There is more to be done on Wheathampstead, especially in relation to the interesting story of how he obtained the three papal bulls he was found with.

LB Why are the papal bulls so significant?

JC Abbot John visited Italy in 1423, hoping to secure an audience with the pope. Whilst there he became so ill that Pope Martin V sent his own physicians to tend to him; at one point officials administered Extreme Unction as one of the Last Rites. Though he came close to death, the Abbot went on to make a full and miraculous recovery. Rejoicing in his return to health, Abbot John was determined to secure some benefit from his visit and requested three special privileges for the abbey which would mark it out from its rivals. Pope Martin V willingly granted the privileges which allowed the abbey to exercise greater independence in its religious life and in the management of its income. On his return, the monks congratulated Abbot John for his achievement and to the end of his long life they celebrated him for these three papal bulls.  In his obituary, it was said that he should be remembered for his ‘three-fold’ character, a gesture to the recollection of the three privileges he had won for the Abbey so long before.

LB What were some of the other highlights of Abbot John’s life?

JC Wheathampstead was a builder in London, Oxford and St Albans – even today you can still see a trace of his work in the St Albans saltire on the wall outside Worcester College, Oxford. He was also a cultural patron of international reputation; a patron of writing in both Latin and English and of the scribes and artists who made the finest medieval manuscripts. He was an avid collector of books and also a writer himself. He compiled a vast encyclopaedia on historical, literary and political topics. He also wrote poetry, lively and colourful although much of it makes for difficult reading now. It is also worth emphasising that he was a public figure at a fascinating point in history, between the Battle of Agincourt (1415) and the height of the Wars of the Roses (1455-85). This is a man who knew personally Kings Henry V, Henry VI, Edward IV and their queens Katharine de Valois, Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville (the ‘White Queen’). The final significant public act that Wheathampstead coordinated was a royal visit. In 1458 Henry VI came to St Albans with his entire household and visited all the holy places in St Albans, including the outlying chapels and nunneries. That spectacle of the nation’s great and good all coming to St Albans typifies the status of the place at that time. It’s one of the last moments Henry VI is lucid enough to make a royal progress.

LB Finally, what do we know about what Abbot John of Wheathampstead was really like?

JC I have to say I doubt he would have been very likeable. He was very pleased with himself. In fact, his self-esteem was almost out of control. The main annal of his own life is a reverse piece of ghost writing – it purports to be by another monk (it would not be very good monastic humility to write an autobiography!) but it appears to have been written by John himself. Yet, he was also a man of some vision. He was drawn towards the wider world beyond his own monastery and especially to the society and culture of mainland Europe. He was well aware that there were new movements in art, literature and learning passing out of Italy and across Europe – what we now see as the beginnings of the Renaissance – and he was eager for England to join them despite the fact that the descent into civil war threatened to isolate the kingdom for a generation.

Few of the abbots of St Albans are as colourful as Wheathampstead. We already knew much about him and his place his time.  With this discovery we have a piece of the jigsaw few would ever have imagined we would have.

The discovery of John of Wheathampstead comes at a momentous time for St Albans Cathedral. The Alban, Britain’s First Saint project currently underway will raise the profile of the oldest site of continuous Christian Worship in Britain and transform the visitor welcome. Abbot John was proud to say he had he had preserved the Cathedral’s treasures for future generations so it is appropriate that he has appeared as we are trying to do the same.

You can read more about John of Wheathampstead and his life at Professor James Clark’s Blog: http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/medievalstudies/

A New Year Update from the Dean of St Albans Cathedral

A New Year Update from the Dean of St Albans Cathedral

At the year’s turning we are now well into the building phase of the ‘Alban Britain’s First Saint’ project. The Chapter House is having its insides completely changed to accommodate the new Education Centre, new Library and Adult Study Centre; and the revamped café is being raised to the level of the new entrance building on Sumpter Yard, so as to provide one open, accessible  welcome area. The virgers’ vestry has been demolished, and the old brick ‘pyramid’ which used to house the kitchen is also set to be brought down in the coming weeks. The archaeology dig will also end soon, and then we can start on the new build.

At the start of December the archaeologists made their most important discovery: the tomb of Abbot John of Wheathampstead, one of the most interesting and successful of the mediaeval Abbots of St Albans. The papal seals that were found in his grave are a testimony to the privileges that he won for his monastery, and of his own national and international influence as he steered the Abbey through the Wars of the Roses. John also improved and beautified the building, and attracted many new pilgrims – so it is a good omen that he should appear just as we are trying to do the same through the ABFS project, which above all aims to make the Abbey much better known, and to provide better resources to welcome and inform new visitors.

 

As John would wish, in due course his body will be laid to rest again, with proper prayer and ceremony.

Aside from the building work and archaeology taking place, lots is also taking place behind the scenes. Our interpretation scheme, which will help engage visitors with the history of the Abbey, is taking shape. The story is emerging through the footsteps of pilgrims with refreshed story themes, timelines, audio visual and web based aids and more traditional interpretation panels. The project has scope and funding for new guided trails and a host of activities from festivals and artists in residence to talks, café events and special exhibitions.

In parallel to the new interpretation, two specialist groups are working on the recolouring of the Wall Paintings (to bring some of the medieval wall paintings back to their former glory through illuminations) and the reconstruction and relocation of Amphibalus’ shrine. We hope the wall paintings illumination will be ready to be a key feature of the new interpretation scheme when it opens in 2019.

In the New Year we are joined by two new Heritage Lottery funded posts. Laura Bloom will become the new Visitor Services Officer, working with staff and volunteers to improve the whole visitor experience; and Lindsay Wong will join us from the Jewish Museum in London, to be the Community Engagement Officer, reaching out to some of our target audiences and drawing more people into the Cathedral.

Meanwhile, business has gone on as usual through the year, and we are especially pleased that this year our visitor numbers have continued to rise despite the building work.

We had a wonderful pilgrimage in June, when we welcomed the first woman diocesan bishop, Rachel Treweek, and the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. In 2018 we shall welcome TV historian Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch and Brother Stuart Burns, from the Anglican Benedictine Abbey at Mucknell. Put the Pilgrimage date in your diary: Saturday 23rd June. Other special events to come are the installation of our new Sub Dean, Abigail Thompson, on February 24th; Holy Week and Easter preached by Bishop David Wilbourne (BBC Radio 4 will be broadcasting our 8.10am service and BBC Radio 3 will broadcast Evensong at 3pm); the diocesan Easter Monday pilgrimage; a big evangelistic event with Soul Survivor at Pentecost; and a number of special services and events, including Poppy Field, a son et lumière light installation, around the centenary of the end of World War I in November.

Guest Preachers Alban Pilgrimage Procession 2017
The Rt Revd Dr Michael Beasley, Bishop of Hertford, The Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester and the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford at the Alban Pilgrimage 2017.

Through all the upheaval, it has been a good year. Pray for a good 2018.

 

You are older than the world can be

You are younger than the life in me

Ever old and ever new

Keep me travelling along with you.

St Albans Cathedral Finds Lost Abbot

St Albans Cathedral Finds Lost Abbot

Archaeologists from the Canterbury Archaeological Trust (CAT) working at St Albans Cathedral have discovered the grave of John of Wheathampstead, a former Abbot of national and international renown, who died in 1465, and whose burial site has remained a mystery to this day.

In an extremely rare development, the team also discovered three papal seals, known as ‘papal bulls’, inside the grave, issued by Pope Martin V (1417-1431).

 

It is the presence of these bulls that confirm that this is the grave of Abbot Wheathampstead. Professor James Clark (University of Exeter), who is an expert on the Abbey’s medieval history, has found that early in his career Abbot John secured three special privileges at an audience with Pope Martin and that he was remembered ever after for his great success when visiting the papal court.

Professor Martin Biddle, working with the team from CAT and who led the excavation work for the Cathedral’s new Chapter House in 1978, commented, “The finding of three leaden seals is a unique discovery in archaeology.”

The dig at St Albans Cathedral is taking place in advance of the construction of a new Welcome Centre, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and part of the Alban, Britain’s First Saint project.  The project aims to raise the profile of St Albans Cathedral, the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in Britain and birth place of Magna Carta.

The archaeological dig provides a unique opportunity to explore the buried history of the Abbey. For a hundred years from 1750 until around 1852 the area served as the parish graveyard where whole families were buried together often victims of devastating epidemics such as the great cholera outbreak of the 1830’s. Beneath these post-medieval burials are the substantial remains of a 14th to 15th century building which historians now think may be the chapel which Abbot John built. The foundations of this chapel overlie earlier evidence for the lost Norman Apsidal chapels that formed part of the original Cathedral built by Paul of Caen in 1077.

The Dean of St Albans, the Very Rev’d Dr Jeffrey John, said, “It is a wonderful thing to have found the grave and relics of John of Wheathampstead, one of the most interesting and successful of the Abbots of St Albans. The papal seals that were found in his grave are a reminder of some of the privileges that he won for his monastery, and of his own national and international influence on the Church at a time when (not unlike today) it was faced with threats of division and decline”.

He continued, “Abbot John added a great deal to the renown and the beauty of the Abbey, and attracted many new pilgrims from Britain and overseas. He also defended the Abbey from destruction during the Wars of the Roses and was proud to say that he had preserved its treasures for future generations. It seems appropriate that he should appear just as we are trying to do the same through the ‘Alban, Britain’s First Saint’ project, which aims to make the Abbey much better known, and to provide better resources to welcome and inform new visitors. As John would certainly wish, in due course his body will be laid to rest again, with proper prayer and ceremony, along with his fellow Abbots in the Presbytery of the Cathedral and Abbey Church. We trust he prays for us, as we do for him.”

Professor Clark said, “Not only did Abbot John raise St Albans Abbey to the pinnacle of the English church, he was also celebrated in his own right, a Renaissance man when the Renaissance was still in its infancy, a renowned churchman, scholar and politician, who was courted by princes as well as popes.”

Archaeological work continues at St Albans Cathedral until early 2018 and the new Welcome Centre opens in June 2019.

Abbot Wheathampstead

  • Born in c. 1390 in Wheathampstead and died on 20 January 1465.
  • Abbot at St Albans 1420–1440. He resigned due to ill health but was re-elected in 1451 and remained in office until his death in 1465.
  • He travelled to Italy in 1423 and secured an audience with Martin V. He made three requests to the Pope for privileges to be granted to his abbey and its monks. Pope Martin assented and three bulls were issued to the abbot, two dated 19 November 1423 and one 24 November 1423.
  • At his death, Abbot Wheathampstead was remembered for securing these three bulls from Pope Martin and details of them were recorded in the Abbey Book of Benefactors.
  • In his obituary, entered into the same book, it was said that he should be remembered for his ‘three-fold’ character which may be interpreted as a gesture to the recollection of the three privileges he had won for the Abbey so long before.
  • His relics have been found in a brick lined tomb, positioned close to both the presbytery and transept and almost certainly situated within a building dating from the fifteenth century.

Papal Bulls

  • The papal bulls discovered have been identified as those of Martin V, Pope from 1417 to 1431.
  • Initial enquiries to specialists suggest that a grave with more than one bull is highly unusual and marks the burial of a significant individual.
  • The bulls themselves consist of circular lead disks approximately 40mm in diameter. The name of the pope (written as Martinus) is semi-legible. Also visible is the legend PP.V, with the PP standing for Pastor Pastorum (Shepherd of Shepherds).
  • The bulls would have been attached to a vellum document by either hemp or silk cords depending on whether the role of the charter was respectively a letter of justice or grace. Traces of the cord may be preserved in the soil that adheres to the bulls, but identification requires further specialized analysis.

Canterbury Archaeological Trust Dig

  • The team from Canterbury Archaeological Trust are working on a long-closed parish graveyard to the South East of the Cathedral.
  • Over 170 recorded burials had been interred on the site from the Dissolution of the Abbey in 1539 until around 1852, when the burial ground was closed.
  • The dig taking place on the Cathedral grounds is unique for those working on it since it is such a concentrated graveyard which requires careful work to uncover and remove the finds.
  • The assemblage of human bone is well preserved and the work forms an excellent opportunity to provide information about the late 18th and early 19th century population of St Albans.
  • An exciting aspect of the current dig is the uncovering of original Norman apse ended chapels on the site which were demolished in the 13th century and replaced in the 15th century by a large rectangular building which was probably destroyed shortly after the Dissolution of the Abbey.
  • This building probably contained a treasury, sacristy, vestry and chapels accessed from the transept and presbytery. The building may also have formed the Abbot’s quarters with access via the slype to the cloisters.
  • Professor Martin Biddle is working closely with the team from CAT. With his late wife, he also led excavation work in 1978 on the site of the Cathedral’s new Chapter House (opened in 1982). During this excavation work, the graves of 11 abbots and four monks were discovered. Sadly, all but one had been robbed.
  • In the coming weeks the excavation will begin to explore these remains, revealing some of the features that would have been prominent during this period when the Abbey was a major centre of pilgrimage.

Images courtesy of Canterbury Archaeological Trust.